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Bordeaux Primeurs 2016: Day 4

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

The joyride around Bordeaux 2016 culminated once again with some remarkable wines in the Haut-Médoc. These were led by Château Palmer, which in 2016 has produced a Margaux to rival last year’s beauty. Overall you would have thought that the dry and hot conditions would have been difficult on some of the gravelly and lighter soils in both Margaux and in Pessac-Léognan, the two key appellations in which I dedicated a large part of my final day tasting. While I did notice a little more variability (some jam/raisin qualities in a couple, over-extraction in others] I was generally very impressed with a great number of wines. Once again the aromatics, the fruit tones and seductive qualities of the tannins were remarkable at the top end. I also explored the Haut-Médoc appellation in some detail. There are a great many wines of interest here in 2016 for the consumer. The vintage appears to rival 2009 and 2010. Stylistically it is almost a hypothetical blend of those two vintages [perhaps with some 2014 thrown in], but with generally more moderate alcohol levels. Time will tell as to 2016s precise place in the pantheon, but it’s obviously a very exciting vintage. Still, dark Brexit clouds mean that this vintage will obviously be released into an uncertain and possibly very different future.

My day began in Pessac-Léognan with another ‘breakfast’ tasting at Château La Mission Haut-Brion. It showed considerable power, scale and tannin, alongside another strong wine from Château Haut-Brion which showed beautifully ripe fruit tones.

The whites must be considered a success given the difficulties the hot, dry summer caused for the white grape varieties. 2016 is not a year for knockout whites in Bordeaux, though there has been a great run here in recent years at both La Mission and Haut-Brion. The Domaines Dillon St Emilion property Château Quintus was intense and focused, and the balance didn’t suggest the 15% alcohol.

Next up was Château Haut-Bailly. This château has been on a roll in the past decade. The 2014 and 2015 were both very successful vintages and 2016 continues this run of good form. It looks exceptional to me. It has wonderful depth, purity and freshness. The same is also true of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte which has produced full and lush red wine again this year. The white wine actually looked good here too – good weight and some attractive fruit tones. I’ll be writing in greater detail on these two properties in future posts – two of my favourite wines in the Pessac-Léognan appellation.

Château Carbonnieux held the Union des Grand Crus [UGC] Pessac-Léognan tastings. There was a little variability in the wines here. Some of the reds had pretty tannic profiles that suggested that some of the tannins here were perhaps less seductive than in the Haut-Médoc. There were some jam and prune notes in a few others. A few had experienced crop reductions as a result of April frost [which particularly affected Château de Fieuzal]. Amongst the reds Château Bouscaut, Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Domaine de Chevalier [especially], Château de Fieuzal, Château Malartic Lagravière and Château Pape Clement looked really good indeed. I also enjoyed Château Olivier, Château La Louvière and Château Picque-Caillou, which all had attractive freshness and texture. In Graves Château de Chantegrive and Château Rahoul have produced very good reds. Overall the whites had weight and texture but not very much aromatic character. Château Carbonnieux stood out with its white wine in 2016 for me.

By noon I was presented with a dilemma. I was already well behind schedule and had to miss tastings that I had arranged in St Emilion in order to concentrate on my afternoon tastings in the Haut-Médoc. I hope to catch up with the Moueix range of Pomerols and St Emilions at a later date. Likewise I missed out on the UGC in Pomerol and St Emilion as well as tastings at Château Cheval Blanc and Château Figeac, both of whom I would have expected to have made excellent wine in 2016. I hope to get the chance to taste these over the coming months.

So following Pessac-Léognan I drove straight to Château Cantemerle in Macau who were holding the Haut-Médoc tastings for the UGC. I also tasted the 2005, 2009 and 2010 vintages at Cantemerle [all in very good shape from this good value property for lovers of fine Bordeaux]. At the tastings 2016 Château Beaumont, Château Belgrave, Château de Camensac, Château Cantemerle [extremely concentrated], Château Citran and Château La Lagune, particularly stood out amongst the reds. Château Coufran, Château de Lamarque and Château La Tour Carnet also had plenty of middle and extract. 2016 is clearly an exciting vintage in the Haut-Médoc for sure. More detail on all these properties later with individual notes and scores.

Very good wines have been made in Moulis and Listrac too. I was particularly impressed with Château Fonréaud and the Fourcas duo [Château Fourcas Dupré and Château Fourcas Hosten] in Listrac. Château Clarke has a lot of extract and matter. In Moulis, Château Chasse-Spleen is nicely poised and there is a fleshy Château Maucaillou. Top of the tree here is a remarkable effort from Château Poujeaux. This is up there with their 2009 and 2010 efforts. Excellent wine.

Next up was a fabulous Château Palmer. I was already over half an hour late for my rendezvous so had all but the most fleeting glimpse of Thomas Duroux [seemingly speeding off in all directions at the property]. Low yields here at Palmer have once again resulted in yet another remarkable, beautifully perfumed wine. There are layers of gorgeous fruit, packed tightly together. The tannins are a marvel – pure velvet. Great stuff here. It completes an utterly dazzling trio of vintages at Palmer 2014-2016. Alter Ego has lots of ripe black cherry aromatics. It is moreish and appetizing.

Château Margaux looks excellent too. It is all charm and delicacy at the moment with lovely Cabernet aromatics to the Grand Vin with plenty of flesh on the palate. There is also freshness. Pavillon Rouge looks good and Pavillon Blanc, through strict selection, has overcome the tricky growing conditions for the whites.

Then it was over to Château Durfort-Vivens to catch up with developments there. I often miss this property during primeurs as it rarely shows at the UGC trade tastings. It was good to catch up with Gonzague Lurton and see how the biodynamic approach at Durfort is yielding fascinating results. Durfort Vivens 2016 is wonderful. It is super pure and with layer upon layer of fruit. I was also impressed with their other Margaux, Château Ferrière and Château La Gurgue. Château Haut-Bages Libéral, the Pauillac cru classé, also looks to be very good in 2016. It shows bright blackcurrant fruit with plenty of texture and freshness on the palate. By now it was nearly half four and I was drastically behind schedule. I managed a rapid romp around the wines at the UGCB’s Margaux tasting at Château Kirwan. While there was some heterogeneity in the appellation, there were a number of impressive wines, though perhaps Margaux wasn’t quite so knockout as it was in 2015 [Margaux played a blinder last year]. Here in 2016 Château Angludet, Château Brane-Cantenac [brilliant], Château Cantenac Brown [the greater freshness here continues in this vintage], Château Giscours, Château Kirwan [nicely pure], Château Labégorce, Château Monbrison, Château Prieuré Lichine, Château Rauzan Gassies [succulent], Château Rauzan-Ségla, Château Siran and Château du Tertre impressed.

Château Marquis de Terme has plenty of flesh and extract but needs to settle, Château Malescot St Exupéry works in its typically sublimated modern extracted style [if that’s your thing]. I’m split on the Château Lascombes. This is remarkably dark and inky effort [with record breaking IPT levels – the tannin index], but it feels a tannic mouthful at present and somewhat over-the-top. I’ll be interested to see how this settles but I thought it overdone.

Exiting Kirwan after five meant I knew I’d not make it to Château Batailley for the UGC Pauillac and St Estèphe tastings but I hoped I’d make it to St Julien. Traffic on the D2 meant I arrived just as Château Talbot was closing. Frustrating that my trip this year was two days shorter, I had to end the major tastings there. I hope to be able to catch up with the remaining top wines from St Julien, Pauillac and St Estèphe I’ve missed over the next few months. I’ll update my subsequent tasting notes accordingly.

I did manage to dip into the last half hour at the Cru Bourgeois event at Château d’Arsac. I’d already been struck by the quality of some of the Médoc at the Grand Cercle event, as well as by an exceptional Château La Tour de By at the UGCB tasting earlier that day. I was impressed by Château Castéra, Château Loudenne, Château La Roque de By, Château Patache d’Aux and Château Tour St-Bonnet. The Haut-Médocs were being packed away before I had a chance to look at them unfortunately [I was keen to see Larose-Trintaudon, Cissac, Sénéjac and the like – as I’m sure these have done well in 2016]. Instead I looked at Moulis, Margaux and St Estèphe Crus Bourgeois. In Moulis, Château Brillette and Château Gressiser Grand Poujeaux looked good. Château Paveil de Luze in Margaux was dark and concentrated, but felt a bit fresher last year.

St Estèphe looks excellent in 2016 [as my tastings at the top St Estèphe growths suggested on my Day 3 tastings]. Amongst the Cru Bourgeois, Château Beau-Site looked really good [streets ahead of 2015, more akin to 2014 and 2009], along with voluptuous Château Le Boscq [likewise akin to 2014 and 2009] and impressive Château Clauzet. Château Petit Bocq had plenty extract and new oak, Château La Commanderie had guts [if lacking a bit of freshness] and there was also an intense and mineral Château Lilian-Ladouys.

Overall as I drove to the airport in my little Fiat 500, I was really humming with excitement about the prospect of the wines across Bordeaux in 2016, most especially in the Médoc and Haut-Médoc. I’ll be posting more detailed notes by appellation over the coming weeks. I’ll start with a general overview of the vintage as I’ve seen it in the snapshot of my four-day trip taking in two hundred plus wines. I’ll also update these notes with the major omissions as and when….

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